Eastwood's appearance in the movie, after his string of spaghetti western and Dirty Harry roles, somewhat startled the movie industry and he was reportedly advised against making it. Panned by critics, the movie went on to become an enormous success and became, along with its 1980 sequel Any Which Way You Can, the two of the highest grossing Eastwood movies.
The soundtrack has many popular country music hits, including the title track by Eddie Rabbitt and several numbers by Charlie Rich. One song Charlie Rich performed in the movie, "I'll Wake You Up When I Get Home", hit number three on the charts in 1979 and was Rich's last Top Ten single. Sondra Locke, who appears as Eastwood's fleeing love interest, performs several musical numbers in the film as well.
The movie has a contemporary western theme, displaying the blue collar aspects of the western United States, with many scenes shot in rural locations, cheap motel rooms, industrial facilities, and honky tonk bars. The film was shot on location largely in the California communities of North Hollywood, San Fernando, Sun Valley, and Van Nuys, Ukiah,Ca., and in Colorado, including part of Denver and historic Georgetown, where Eastwood's character engages in a comedic showdown with the bumbling motorcycle gang in an open reference to his earlier gunfighter roles.
The movie's title refers to the eponymous Eddie Rabbit song from the soundtrack, in which the singer complains that his girlfriend turns him "every which way but loose", i. e. he can't bring himself to leave her although he is more of a freewheeling character. The movie title is also out of the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston where the main character Janie's husband Tea Cake tells her about a fight he had with a man who had a knife, where in the fight Tea Cake "turned him every way but loose", i.e. fought him but did not let the man stab him.
The Observer described it as a "really great ape movie" in Episode #813 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, whereas Professor Bobo prefers the sequel; called in to settle the disagreement, Mike Nelson opines that Any Which Way You Can is "a funnier movie" but Every Which Way But Loose is "better-made."
An episode of The Critic had a parody clip called "Every Which Way But Lucid" where a cartoon Clint Eastwood is making out with an orangutan with his eyes closed, saying he will make love to her while "keeping his eyes closed the whole time." The monkey then laughs, causing Eastwood to wake in anger and scream "Clyde!".
The Bloodhound Gang have a song entitled "Right Turn Clyde" on their Hooray for Boobies CD. This refers to a running gag where Clyde the orangutan sticks his fist out the window, presumably to signal a right turn, and punches a biker out.
In the 1990 NES video game Dirty Harry: The War Against Drugs, one cheat code is "Clyde."